NUL’S BED OF WASTE

It is the first bed of its kind in Lesotho, fully made of waste paper—a mix of cardboards and newspapers—no wood at all! But it rivals your everyday wooden beds in strength, texture and looks. It is now being incubated as part of the NUL Innovation Hub and it will soon be produced at large scale in its own factory at the proposed NUL-LNDC Industrial Park. 

Most people look at this bed developed by Setlhare Jane, a Research Assistant at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) and ask, “how can such a giant hard structure be from a mere waste paper?”

And—it is made of waste paper.

“Don’t ask me about the demand for this and similar products of waste paper, it has gone through the roof,” Jane said. “The demand is so high and the supply so low, I’m sometimes embarrassed that I can’t live up to people’s expectations about selling as much of it as they need.” At least for now.

Plans are underway to mass-produce the peculiar products.

Beds are old as humans. They have been made from wooden and metal materials for thousands of years. However, rarely have beds been made from paper, let alone waste paper. Today, we are about to tell you, not that it is possible to make beds out of waste paper, but that it is already being done.

What was Jane thinking? That is the question that comes to people’s minds when they see the bed and learn it was made from waste paper. Of course making good things don’t take a miracle.

They do, however, take time, effort, hard-work, passion and, above all, persistence.

Jane brought that combination in display when he started working on a material that would lead to this bed, exactly four years ago! As those in the adrenaline-inducing area of innovation will be so eager to tell you, discovery comes when you least expect, it is rarely planned.

That is what happened to Setlhare Jane. “I was playing around with materials in the lab when I suddenly discovered a material with strange properties.” That material had properties of ceramics and plastics but it was neither of the two. “I immediately contacted my supervisor and we immediately agreed that, well, that was something.”

Over time, they tested the properties of this material in the lab. They were puzzled by its combination of strength and softness—a property of bones.

“First I used the material as a paint-like coat, just to test its ability to withstand weather, rains, air, sunlight, insects, you name them. It is exactly four years later now and the coat looks as if it was put there yesterday.”

He would then paint this material on art products made of paper and he would be amazed at their durability. “At one point, I was tearing this paper coated artefact when I felt like I was breaking a bone.”

That was the moment.

It was the moment when he thought, maybe, just maybe, this material could be used to make furniture if combined carefully with waste paper. He started experimenting with all kinds of products, vases, coffee tables, flower stands.

As fate would have it, he was hit by a jackpot when the acclaimed National University of Lesotho International Science, Technology and Innovation Conference and Expo (NULISTICE 2018) happened early this year. “I was contracted to produce 500 pieces of material that would be used for making poster stands, both at the conference and at the expo.”

It was a game-changing moment.

He has been making all these toys and now he was being requested to make a real thing with these materials! Time was not on his side. The technical failure or success of this big international event was put directly on his shoulders. It was a do or die moment.

On the go, “I was forced to device principles of mass production in the heat of the moment.” As if he was being baptized with fire, “I had to couple the steep learning of fast production techniques even as I schooled myself on managing the workers whom I had to hire to get things done quickly.”

“Mind you, I have a job, so I could only work during weekends most of the time. I even hired people with woodwork skills only to find that my new materials and production methods were very alien to them.”

But he survived the fury of the fire and sulphur instant. If he lasted that episode, he said, he could last everything. In the NULISTICE 2018 expo, he also displaced some of the coffee tables and phases made of the waste and, “the popularity and demand for these products shot to the roof ever since, I just can’t meet the demand to this day.”

Time moved and Basotho Enterprises Development Corporation (BEDCO) heard about him and his team. He was contracted to teach the skills to the youth. “It was then that I pushed the boundaries and demonstrated the bed of waste.”

It is the same kind of “bed of waste” that forms today’s topic.